If you’ve been hit with a cold, one of the first things you might do to reduce coughing, sneezing and congestion is head to the pharmacy for cold symptom relief.

As with any type of medication, over-the-counter cold remedies come with their own side effects. And if you have high blood pressure, you should be even more mindful of how they could affect your health, according to Dr. Bradford Warden, Mon Health Cardiologist.

“You can still take cold medicine if you have high blood pressure—but you need to be careful,” said Dr. Warden. “You need to read through the ingredients in any cold medicine you’re considering, and always clear them with your doctor first.”

What cold medicines should I avoid if I have high blood pressure?

Dr. Warden warns those with high blood pressure to avoid decongestants and multi-symptom relief medications that contain decongestants.

“Decongestants relieve nasal congestion by constricting blood vessels in the nasal area,” said Dr. Warden. “But decongestants also constrict other blood vessels, which raises blood pressure—a dangerous scenario if you’re already struggling with hypertension.”

Decongestants in cold medicines may include:

  • Pseudoephedrine
  • Phenylephrine
  • Ephedrine
  • Naphazoline
  • Oxymetazoline

Dr. Warden also warns those with high blood pressure to use certain nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen, with caution.

Research shows some of these medications may increase the risk for hypertension or stroke,” said Dr. Warden. “So you should use give your doctor a call before using any type of pain reliever as well.”

What cold remedies are safe if I have high blood pressure?

Dr. Warden suggests the following options to combat cold symptoms if you already have hypertension:

  • Choose cold medicines formulated for people with high blood pressure. Cold medicines, like Coricidin HBP and NyQuil HBP, me be more suitable for you. They don’t contain decongestants, but do contain other ingredients that should be taken with caution. Dr. Warden says to always read instructions carefully and verify safety with your doctor first.
  • Gargle salt water. Gargle warm water mixed with salt to soothe a sore throat. Alternatively, sip on a warm drink with honey, a natural soother.
  • Use a saline-based nasal spray. To treat a stuffy nose, opt for a saline nasal spray over decongestants. The spray may help to flush out sinuses and provide some much needed relief.
  • Use a humidifier. Humidifiers, which can be purchased at most large retail stores and pharmacies, moisten the air. The added humidity in the air may make it easier for you to breathe, and relieve some congestion and coughing.

When in doubt, Dr. Warden suggests consulting your doctor before treating symptoms on your own.

“With a good understanding of your medical history, your doctor will be able to tell you which over-the-counter medications may be dangerous or interfere with any current blood pressure medications you’re taking,” said Dr. Warden. “So in addition to carefully reading the list of ingredients, just touch base with your doctor first.”

Prevention is better than cure.

Dr. Warden suggests everyone, but especially those with high blood pressure, take steps to prevent sickness before it starts.

“It always important to stay healthy, but take extra precaution when it’s cold and flu season,” says Dr. Warden.

He offers the following tips to fight cold and flu germs this season:

  • Stay hydrated and drink plenty of fluids.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet full of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables.
  • Stay active.
  • Get plenty of rest every night.
  • Wash your hands frequently.
  • Stay away from sick people.
  • Stay home if you’re sick.

Emily K. Gallagher
Multimedia Coordinator
Marketing Department
Mon Health Medical Center
Morgantown, WV